What You Need to Know about The Equality Act and Diversity at Work

Written by Luke Kitchen
Last updated February 6, 2023

The Equality Act of 2010 is a piece of government legislation. It outlines essential laws around discrimination in the workplace. The Act aims to protect disabled people and those under the following protected characteristics from workplace discrimination: 

When it comes to equality and fairness in the workplace, the Equality Act is a must-consult piece of legal paperwork. It frames the basis of all discrimination cases and is used regularly to protect people against unlawful behaviours and treatments. 

At Aspiring to Include, we believe that the Equality Act is essential reading for everyone. Everyone should know and understand their rights at work. Doing so means you are able to stand up for what is right and easily spot when things aren’t right too. 

With this in mind, we have created this blog regarding the Equality Act and diversity at work so that you can have the right information going forward. We hope that it helps you navigate the tricky waters of recruitment, employment, and diversity. 

Workplace Discrimination 

The main issue outlined in the Equality Act is workplace discrimination. The Act discusses what workplace discrimination is and what counts as unlawful behaviour. 

There are different definitions of discrimination and inappropriate conduct, which can fall under the following categories… 

Protected characteristics are protected from discrimination, harassment, and victimisation under the Equality Act. Their definitions are as follows: 

  • Direct Discrimination: If a person (A) discriminates against another (B) because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others. 
  • Indirect Discrimination: A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if A applies to B a provision, criterion, or practise which is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B’s.
  • Harassment: A person (A) harasses another (B) if A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for B. It is also harassment if A engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. And if this conduct has an effect similar to that outlined in the first example.
  • Victimisation: A person (A) victimises another person (B) if A subjects B to a detriment because B “does a protected act” or A believes they have done so. Protected acts are to do with The Equality Act itself and how it can be called into action. Someone “does a protected act” if they bring proceedings under The Equality Act, give evidence or information in relation to proceedings under the Act, make an allegation that another person has contravened (violated, infringed upon) this act, or really if they do anything to do with the Act.

It is important to know that workplace discrimination is a complicated issue. It can be presented in many ways, as seen above. Discrimination is the biggest threat to diversity at work and so we should all be aware of the many ways in which it can present so that we are able to spot it, report it, and deal with it. 

Positive Action 

It is also key for employees and employers to be aware of the “positive action” section of the Equality Act. This section outlines how diversity at work may be actively encouraged via positive action. You may hear some people refer to it as “positive discrimination”. 

The Equality Act stipulates that positive action may take place under the following conditions… 

  1. This section applies if a person (P) reasonably thinks that—
  • persons who share a protected characteristic suffer a disadvantage connected to the characteristic, or
  • participation in an activity by persons who share a protected characteristic is disproportionately low.
  1. Part 5 (work) does not prohibit P from taking action within subsection (3) with the aim of enabling or encouraging persons who share the protected characteristic to—
  • (a)overcome or minimise that disadvantage, or
  • (b)participate in that activity.

These circumstances apply as long as the person or people being recruited, onboarded or promoted are equally as qualified and experienced as others outside of the protected characteristic. They also only apply if the company/employer does not present a pattern of favouring one particular protected characteristic in these decisions. 

Overall, the positive action section allows employers to make decisions in employment based on protected characteristics in a way that is helpful and equitable. It is the opposite of discrimination. 

The Bottom Line

The overall consensus of the Equality Act is that any of the protected characteristics, sex, age, background, race, etc, cannot be the basis of any employment decisions or instances of discrimination. However, they can be considered in terms of positive action, in which employers aim to balance the scales and provide equity to employees in their workplace. 

The Act allows shows us that discrimination in the workplace is a complex topic and that discrimination can present itself in a multitude of ways. It isn’t always as straightforward a topic as we might think. It is critical for everyone to know this, so that they may protect others against the many forms of discrimination in the workplace. Certainly, is not a topic about which we can afford to be naive. 

Ultimately, the Equality Act should be used to protect people in employment. It is a helpful tool rather than a rulebook. If you are ever in doubt about something at work, re-examining the Act is the best first step. 

Find Diverse Work Opportunities with Aspiring to Include 

Here at Aspiring to Include, we understand just how important true diversity at work is. We believe in encouraging and aiding that diversity in whatever ways we can.

Over on our main site, we have many tools and avenues of support to help you as a diverse job seeker. One of those tools is our inclusive job board, where you can find live opportunities for diversity-positive employers across the U.K. 

Finding a job in the right environment is critical. We hope our job board can help you find the exact opportunity you need. 

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Last Updated: Friday March 1 2024
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